Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (1935 – 2020 / 1926 – 1975)

kctfodfesvccvydbfohnIf any crime novels deserve to be called modern classics, it is the ten police procedurals about Martin Beck and his colleagues. With them, the Swedish author duo Maj Sjöwall (1935-2020) and Per Wahlöö (1926-1975), virtually created the modern detective novel. Written in the 60s and 70s, the decalogue is nothing short of a national literary treasure, with countless contemporary imitators across the world. Together, the ten books chronicle the painful creation of modern society. (Salomonsson Agency)

Maj Sjöwall (25 September 1935 – 29 April 2020) was a Swedish author and translator. She is best known for her books about inspector Martin Beck. She wrote the books in collaborative work with her partner Per Wahlöö on a series of ten novels collectively titled The Story of a Crime, published between 1965 and 1975. After the death of Per Wahlöö, she continued working amongst other things as a translator, small work in writing columns for magazines and her work as an author. Sjöwall had a 13-year relationship with Wahlöö which lasted until his death in 1975. Sjöwall died on 29 April 2020 at the age of 84 after a prolonged illness.

Per Fredrik Wahlöö (5 August 1926 – 22 June 1975) was a Swedish author. He is perhaps best known for the collaborative work with his partner Maj Sjöwall on a series of ten novels collectively titled The Story of a Crime, published between 1965 and 1975. Following school, he worked as a crime reporter from 1946 onwards. After long trips around the world he returned to Sweden and started working as a journalist again. He had a thirteen-year relationship with his colleague Maj Sjöwall but never married her, as he already was married. Per Wahlöö died in Malmö in 1975, after an unsuccessful operation on the pancreas (necessitated by cancer).

During the 1960s and 1970s Sjöwall and Wahlöö conceived and wrote a series of ten police procedural novels about the exploits of detectives from the special homicide commission of the Swedish national police; in these the character of Martin Beck was the protagonist. Both authors also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together, and then wrote alternate chapters simultaneously. The books cover ten years and are renowned for extensive character and setting development throughout the series. This is in part due to careful planning by Sjöwall and Wahlöö. In 1971, the fourth of the Beck books, The Laughing Policeman (a translation of Den skrattande polisen, originally published in 1968) won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel, the book was also adapted into the film The Laughing Policeman starring Walter Matthau. All of the novels have been adapted into films between 1967 and 1994, six of which featured Gösta Ekman as Martin Beck. Between 1997 and 2018 there have also been 38 films (some only broadcast on television) based on the characters, with Peter Haber as Martin Beck.

The Story of a Crime series: Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965); The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966); The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967); The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971); The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969); Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970); The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971); The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972); Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974); and The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975).

‘Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were truly innovative writers of detective fiction. Their books are lean and compelling crime novels but at the same time they function as unforgiving left-wing critique of Swedish society. The authors wanted to show the reader that under the official image of welfare-state Sweden there was another layer of poverty, criminality and brutality. Their mission and way of writing received a great deal of attention and they are often regarded as the founders of  modern Scandinavian crime fiction. Their concept was updated in the 1990s with Henning Mankell´s detective character Kurt Wallander and in the 2000s with Stieg Larsson´s Millennium trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander. According to Henning Mankell, the couple were pioneers of realism and political engagement in the detective story: “I think that anyone who writes about crime as a reflection of society has been inspired to some extent by what they wrote,” Mankell has said.’ (Source: Nordic Noir)

‘The Story of a Crime, the collective title for ten perfectly formed books by Sjöwall & Wahlöö, hardly seems dated at all when read in the twenty-first century. The duo allowed their detective Martin Beck to investigate a variety of crimes (in their range) cast a spotlight on many aspects of Scandinavian society. And the plot potentialities afforded the duo were considerable.’ (Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, by Barry Forshaw, Pocket Essentials an imprint of Oldcastle Books, 2013).

A Guide to the Martin Beck Series 

CrimeFest 2015: legendary crime writer Maj Sjöwall in interview with Lee Child 

Maj Sjowall at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, V. G. Gollancz (UK), 1968)

From Wikipedia: Roseanna is a mystery novel by Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, first published in 1965. It is the first novel in their detective series revolving around Martin Beck and his team.

Book Description: The first book in the classic Martin Beck detective series from the 1960s – the novels that shaped the future of Scandinavian crime writing. Hugely acclaimed, the Martin Beck series were the original Scandinavian crime novels and have inspired the writings of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Written in the 1960s, 10 books completed in 10 years, they are the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – a husband and wife team from Sweden. They follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction; without his creation Ian Rankin’s John Rebus or Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander may never have been conceived. The novels can be read separately, but are best read in chronological order, so the reader can follow the characters’ development and get drawn into the series as a whole. ‘Roseanna’ begins on a July afternoon, the body of a young woman is dredged from Sweden’s beautiful Lake Vattern. Three months later, all that Police Inspector Martin Beck knows is that her name is Roseanna, that she came from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people. With its authentically rendered settings and vividly realized characters, and its command over the intricately woven details of police detection, ‘Roseanna’ is a masterpiece of suspense and sadness. (Source: HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd)

Salomonsson Agency page

From the Introduction by Henning Mankell: Now I’m rereading the novel Roseanna on a December day forty years after its first publication. I’ve forgotten a great deal, of course, but the novel still stands strong. It’s well thought-out, well structured. It’s evident that Sjöwall and Wahlöö had carefully laid the groundwork for their plan to write ten books about the National Homicide Bureau – in fictional form but based on reality. (2006)

Roseanna has been reviewed, among others, at The Complete Review, The View from the Blue House, Crimepieces, Reviewing the Evidence, Reactions to Reading, Detectives Beyond Borders, Ms. Wordopolis Reads, Mysteries in Paradise, and DJ´s Krimiblog.

Back in 2009 my review in Spanish come and say as follows: Roseanna begins one afternoon in July when, accidentally, the body of a young woman shows up during the dredging works in one of the locks on Lake Vattern in Sweden. Her naked body makes the identification difficult. The police in Motala, the nearest town, does not manage to find anything. Deputy Inspector Martin Beck and his colleagues Kollberg and Melander are dispatched from Stockholm to investigate the case. The process is slow but with determination Beck and his colleagues try to find the missing pieces. Who that young woman was? How she ended up there? Who killed her? The book’s pace follows the investigation tempo. The case proceeds very slowly at first, allowing the reader to become familiar with the different characters, their characteristics and their personality. Then the pace begins to increase and it grows as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together.

Roseanna, perhaps, is not the best novel in the series, but  it is sufficiently attractive as to read it in one sitting, besides being the first in the series. This is important since the authors originally planned the series as a sequence of novels under a common title and, reading them in its chronological order will allow us to better appreciate the evolution of every character.  

My Book Notes: “The Little Old Man of Batignolles” (1876) by Émile Gaboriau

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

London: Vizetelly and Co., 1886. Available on line at Originally published posthumously as “Le petit vieux des Batignolles” by Éditions Dentu, 1876.

37928566Book Description: “Le Petit Vieux des Batignolles” (1870), (“The Little Old Man of Batignolles”), Gaboriau’s other main detective short story. This tale does have a puzzle plot. Gaboriau leads his readers into an intricate maze where nothing is as it seems. Every clue or apparent deduction is immediately contradicted by something else, and the detectives find it hard to come up with any theory that explains all the facts. This sort of “overload” approach will later be used by Baroness Orczy. There is also a “paradoxical” feel to the tale; Gaboriau takes delight in each clue pointing to its apparent direct opposite. Gaboriau also shows how a clue can be interpreted in many different ways. The scenes early in the story, where the young doctor narrator meets the policeman M. Mechinet, and is invited by him to join him on a murder case, seem directly anticipatory of Dr. Watson’s meeting of Sherlock Holmes, in “A Study in Scarlet” (1887). Behind both Gaboriau and Doyle stands Edgar Allan Poe, and the meeting of the narrator and Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841).”The Little Old Man of Batignolles” is reprinted in English translation in E.F. Bleiler’s anthology A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979). The tale was made into an hour-long film for television in 2009, by famed French director Claude Chabrol. (Source: Mike Grost)

My take: Julian Symons at Bloody Murder, Penguin Books, 1974 encouraged me to read this short story by saying that: ‘This [Monsieur Lecoq] is the best of the novels: but “Le Petit Vieux de[s] Batignolles” is undoubtedly his finest piece of work, ….. (pp. 58).

The story is in the shape of an anonymous manuscript that, after several vicissitudes, was attributed to M. Godeuil. In consequence, it was published at a time when the French laws was banning the publication of anonymous texts as a measure against libels. It is written in the first person by M. Godeuil and it goes back to the time in which M. Godeuil had finished his medical studies and was living in Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. He barely knew the other tenants bar one with whom he developed some friendship after a while. He was called Monsieur Méchinet and his apartment was just in front of the door to  his room. M. Méchinet was married but his conduct was somehow irregular. He frequently used to leave in the evening to return just before daybreak and, at times, he disappeared during whole weeks.

On certain occasion, Méchinet got violently into Godeuil’s room with his head stained with blood. Fortunately the wound was mild and, once cured, he told Godeuil not to talk with anybody about that small incident. The next day, Méchinet returned calmly to express Godeuil his appreciation and invited him to dinner. After that dinner their relationships  became more often and, every now and then, they played dominoes. One day, their game was interrupted by a particularly urgent matter which Méchinet had to attend to, and he invited Godeuil to join him. Thus he became aware that Méchinet was a detective. The matter at hand had to do with the murder of an elderly man in Batignolles.

At first sight, it seemed a relatively straightforward case. Before dying, the victim had written the name of his murderer with his own blood. Accordingly, his nephew was arrested. But when Godeuil observed the victim closely, he came to realise that it couldn’t be possible. The name of the murderer had been written with the left hand. But, to everyone’s surprise, the nephew had already confessed his crime.

What follows is a highly entertaining short story that I’m sure will delight many lovers of the genre, particularly to those interested in getting to know how it evolved from its early stages. Highly recommended.

About the Author: Émile Gaboriau (1832 – 1873) was born in the small town of Saujon, Charente-Maritime. He became a secretary to Paul Féval, and after publishing some novels and miscellaneous writings, found his real gift in L’Affaire Lerouge (1866). The book, which was Gaboriau’s first detective novel, introduced an amateur detective. It also introduced a young police officer named Monsieur Lecoq, who was the hero in three of Gaboriau’s later detective novels. The character of Lecoq was based on a real-life thief turned police officer, Eugène François Vidocq (1775–1857), whose own memoirs, Les Vrais Mémoires de Vidocq, mixed fiction and fact. It may also have been influenced by the villainous Monsieur Lecoq, one of the main protagonists of Féval’s Les Habits Noirs book series. The book was published in “Le Siècle” and at once made his reputation. Gaboriau gained a huge following, but when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Monsieur Lecoq’s international fame declined. The story was produced on the stage in 1872. A long series of novels dealing with the annals of the police court followed, and proved very popular. Gaboriau died in Paris of pulmonary apoplexy. Gaboriau’s books were generally well received. About the Mystery of the Orcival, Harper’s wrote in 1872 “Of its class of romance – French sensational – this is a remarkable and unique specimen“. A film version of Le Dossier n° 113 (File No. 113) was released in 1932.

“El viejecito de los Batignolles”, de Émile Gaboriau

Descripción del libro: “Le Petit Vieux des Batignolles” (1870), (“El viejecito de los Batignolles”), es el otro relato policial principal de Gaboriau. Este relato tiene una trama de enigma. Gaboriau lleva a sus lectores a un intrincado laberinto donde nada es lo que parece. Cada pista o deducción aparente se contradice de inmediato por otra cosa, y los detectives encuentran difícil encontrar una teoría que explique todos los hechos. Este tipo de enfoque “recargado” será utilizado posteriormente por la baronesa Orczy. También el relato tiene un toque “paradójico”; Gaboriau se deleita en que cada pista apunte en apariencia a su polo opueto. Gaboriau también muestra cómo una pista se puede interpretar de muchas maneras diferentes. Las escenas al principio de la historia, donde el joven narrador médico se encuentra con el policía M. Méchinet, y es invitado por él a acompañarle en un caso de asesinato, parecen anticipar directamente el encuentro del Dr. Watson de Sherlock Holmes, en “A Study in Scarlet” (1887). Detrás tanto de Gaboriau como de Doyle se encuentra Edgar Allan Poe, y el encuentro del narrador y Dupin en “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841). “El viejecito de los Batignolles” se publicó en inglés en la antología de E.F. Bleiler A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979). En el 2009 el relato fue transformado en un película de una hora de duración para la televisión, por el famoso director francés Claude Chabrol. (Fuente: Mike Grost)

Mi opinión: Julian Symons en Bloody Murder, Penguin Books, 1974, me animó a leer este cuento diciendo: “Esta [Monsieur Lecoq] es la mejor de las novelas: pero” Le Petit Vieux de [s] Batignolles “es indudablemente su mejor trabajo, … (págs. 58).

La historia tiene la forma de un manuscrito anónimo que, tras varias vicisitudes, fue atribuido a M. Godeuil. En consecuencia, se publicó en un momento en que las leyes francesas prohibían la publicación de textos anónimos como medida contra los libelos. Está escrito en primera persona por M. Godeuil y se remonta a la época en que M. Godeuil había terminado sus estudios de medicina y vivía en la Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. Apenas conocía a los otros inquilinos, salvo uno con quien desarrolló cierta amistad después de un tiempo. Se llamaba Monsieur Méchinet y su apartamento estaba justo enfrente de la puerta de su habitación. M. Méchinet estaba casado pero su conducta era en cierto sentido irregular. Frecuentemente solía irse por la tarde para regresar justo antes del amanecer y, a veces, desaparecía durante semanas enteras.

En cierta ocasión, Méchinet entró violentamente en la habitación de Godeuil con la cabeza manchada de sangre. Afortunadamente, la herida era leve y, una vez curada, le dijo a Godeuil que no hablara con nadie sobre ese pequeño incidente. Al día siguiente, Méchinet regresó con calma para expresarle su agradecimiento a Godeuil y lo invitó a cenar. Después de esa cena, sus relaciones se hicieron más frecuentes y, de vez en cuando, jugaban al dominó. Un día, su juego fue interrumpido por un asunto particularmente urgente que Méchinet tuvo que atender, e invitó a Godeuil a acompañarle. Así se dio cuenta de que Méchinet era un detective. El asunto en cuestión tenía que ver con el asesinato de un anciano en Batignolles.

A primera vista, parecía un caso relativamente sencillo. Antes de morir, la víctima había escrito el nombre de su asesino con su propia sangre. En consecuencia, su sobrino fue arrestado. Pero cuando Godeuil observó a la víctima de cerca, se dio cuenta de que no podía ser posible. El nombre del asesino había sido escrito con la mano izquierda. Pero, para sorpresa de todos, el sobrino ya había confesado su crimen.

Lo que sigue es un relato muy entretenido que estoy seguro deleitará a muchos amantes del género, particularmente a aquellos interesados en conocer cómo evolucionó desde sus primeras etapas. Muy recomendable.

Sobre el autor: Émile Gaboriau, (Saujon, 9 de noviembre de 1832 – París, 28 de setiembre de 1873), fue un escritor y periodista francés. Precursor de la novela policíaca y novela negra en su país. En su obra se conjugan aspectos fantásticos con las influencias de Honoré de Balzac y Edgar Allan Poe. Murió en París a consecuencia de una apoplejía pulmonar. Sus títulos principales son: L’affaire Lerouge (1866), Le dossier 113 (1867), Le crime d’Orcival (1868), Monsieur Lecoq (1869), Les esclaves de Paris (1869) y La corde au cou (1873).

Hake Talbot (1900 – 1986)

Hake Talbot is a pen name of the American writer Henning Nelms (1900-1986). Talbot was chiefly known for his impossible crime, locked room mystery novel Rim of the Pit (1944). Nelms reserved his real name for writing non-fiction about showmanship (his chief occupation was as a stage magician). He was the author of the book Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers (1969). During a 1981 poll by experts arranged by Edward D. Hoch, for the preface of his anthology All But Impossible!, Talbot’s Rim of the Pit stood second, next only to John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935) as the best locked room mystery. Another novel, The Hangman’s Handyman, which Talbot wrote in 1942, was not as successful. He also wrote two short stories, “The High House” and “The Other Side”.

Talbot’s mystery technique is closer to Carr than it is to any other writer, such as Chesterton or Futrelle, and one suspects that Talbot was familiar with and inspired by Carr’s work. In Carr’s The Three Coffins, the reader is often inventively misled about the order of events and their actual significance; the same technique is used in Rim of the Pit, in complex and creative ways. In Carr’s work, suspects are often wandering around from location to location, and their position at various times is relevant in the solution. Carr also uses ingenious methods to mislead readers’ about these positions. This is an aspect of Carr’s work that he took over from the mystery novel as whole, not just its impossible crime wing. (It is most useful as a technique in the novel as opposed to the short story, since in a novel there is room to describe the elaborate wanderings of a group of characters.) We see this same technique in Talbot. There is a certain sophistication and “man of the world” attitude to Carr’s characters; we see the same in Talbot. Carr was fascinated by problems involving “impossible” crimes in open fields and beaches, complete with tracks in the ground; Talbot gives us just such a problem, among the many marvelous puzzles in the book. (Carr’s hero Chesterton was one of the first to propose such a problem, in The Poet and the Lunatics. His solution was nowhere as good as Carr’s many later approaches to this puzzle, but his tale could have fired Carr’s imagination.) There is also an air of “creative eclecticism” in Carr, where he was willing to use and combine many different techniques of impossible crime to make up all the puzzles in a novel. Talbot’s work shows a similar eclecticism. I hope it is clear from this discussion that while Talbot was influenced by Carr’s approach, he in all cases showed plenty of personal creativity. (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection by Mike Grost)

My previous post is here. Stay tuned.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Simon and Schuster Inner Sanctum Mystery (USA), 1944)

Hake Talbot wrote only two mystery novels and Ramble House is proud to bring both of them back into print for modern readers. Rim of the Pit is his masterpiece of an “impossible crime” that takes place in the far north where snow surrounds a group of desperate people, one of whom is bent on murder. The mapback cover from the 1950’s Dell paperback is one of the best crime maps ever drawn and we reproduce it here for you. In addition, this book contains a short story by Talbot called “The Other Side”. You will not forget this book! (Ramble House publicity page)

Rim of the Pit has been reviewed, among others, at Gadetection, Classic Mysteries, My Reader’s Block, The Green Capsule, The invisible Event (1), The Invisible Event (2), In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mystery File, Crime Fiction Lover, Ah Sweet Mystery Blog, Vintage Pop Fictions, Death Can Read, and Clothes In Books.

Rex Stout (1886 – 1975)

descarga (1)Rex Todhunter Stout (December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. His best-known characters are the detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin, who were featured in 33 novels and 39 novellas between 1934 and 1975. In 1959, Stout received the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award. The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon XXXI, the world’s largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century. In addition to writing fiction, Stout was a prominent public intellectual for decades. Stout was active in the early years of the American Civil Liberties Union and a founder of the Vanguard Press. He served as head of the Writers’ War Board during World War II, became a radio celebrity through his numerous broadcasts, and was later active in promoting world federalism. He was the long-time president of the Authors Guild, during which he sought to benefit authors by lobbying for reform of the domestic and international copyright laws, and served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America.

Rex Stout began his literary career in the 1910s writing for magazines, particularly pulp magazines, writing more than 40 stories that appeared between 1912 and 1918. Stout’s early stories appeared most frequently in All-Story Magazine and its affiliates, but he was also published in Smith’s Magazine, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Short Stories, The Smart Set, Young’s Magazine, and Golfers’ Magazine. The early stories spanned genres including romance, adventure, science fiction/fantasy, and detective fiction, including two serialized murder mystery novellas that prefigured elements of the Wolfe stories. In the 1930s, Stout turned to writing detective fiction. In 1933–34, he wrote Fer-de-Lance, which introduced Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin. The novel was published by Farrar & Rinehart in October 1934, and in abridged form as “Point of Death” in The American Magazine (November 1934). The characters of Wolfe and Goodwin are considered among Stout’s main contributions to detective fiction. Wolfe was described by reviewer Will Cuppy as “that Falstaff of detectives. (Source Wikipedia)

Rex Stout bibliography

Rex Stout novels at The Grandest Game in the World

Mike Grost on Rex Stout: Rex Stout’s novels have a common basic pattern. There is some fairly upper class business, such as cooking, cattle breeding, or radio, in which most of the characters are employed. The characters are involved in a complex dispute, which leads to much negotiation and deal making. The deals are often changed and renegotiated, often with the help of detective Nero Wolfe. Interspersed with all of this is a mystery. The mystery plot has some simple trick solution, hopefully fairly clever. Starting in 1940, Stout also became a prolific author of mystery novellas, most of which were published in the slick American Magazine, or, after 1956, in the Saturday Evening Post. (Click here to continue reading)

Bob Schneider’s analysis of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Novellas.

Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’: Of all the great American crime writers, Rex Stout has been something of a blind spot for me. Many years ago, Some Buried Caesar was strongly recommended to me, and I was underwhelmed. But he was an important figure in the genre, and I decided to give him another try. I opted for the first Nero Wolfe mystery, Fer-de-Lance, which dates from 1934. (Click here to continue reading)

Further reading: Rex Stout on Writing at The Passing Tramp.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. (USA), 1934)

Fer-de-Lance is the first Nero Wolfe detective novel written by Rex Stout, published in 1934 by Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. The novel appeared in abridged form in The American Magazine (November 1934) under the title “Point of Death”. The novel was adapted for the 1936 movie Meet Nero Wolfe. In his seminal 1941 work, Murder for Pleasure, crime fiction historian Howard Haycraft included Fer-de-Lance in his definitive list of the most influential works of mystery fiction. (Source: Wikipedia)

Book Description: As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man.  When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he’s getting dreadully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president.  As for Wolfe, he’s playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda — whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who’s still got poison in his heart. (Source: Random House)

Fer-de-Lance has been reviewed, among others, at  Classic Mysteries, Bitter Tea and Mystery, Mystery File, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

%d bloggers like this: